Category Archives: Recipes

Pelmeni

When asked if I have a favorite food, I usually blank. There’s so much delicious food in the world, and I’m so fickle: How can I possibly choose a single favorite food? And then I made pelmeni from scratch. And when I was describing them to a friend, I realized that they are, indeed, my all-time favorite food. Any time, any place, they are the perfect comfort food, beacons of sustenance and home. I’ve never realized that they are my favorite food because they are such a staple of growing up in a Russian-speaking household: always stocked in our freezer by the 100-count, always ready when we needed a quick meal, always soul-satisfyingly delicious.

Pelmeni are Russian meat dumplings. They can be filled with any combination of meats: beef, pork, lamb, veal, chicken. They are boiled, and can be served various ways: in chicken soup (similar to tortellini en brodo) or on their own tossed in sour cream. The way I grew up eating pelmeni — the only legitimate way, in my view — was tossed in butter, white distilled vinegar, and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper. I didn’t even know that other people ate pelmeni with sour cream until I was an adult. For me, sour cream was strictly reserved for vareniki (what most Americans know as pierogi). The addition of cayenne pepper, however, might be distinctly my father’s invention (thanks, Dad!).

I was too impatient to call up relatives for their pelmeni recipes (my mom has always bought them from Russian food stores in Brighton Beach. Side Note: Cafe Glechik on Coney Island Avenue probably has the best pelmeni and vareniki in the tri-state area). I had to know how to make them right away, so I did a Google search and came up with the recipe below based on an amalgam of dozens of recipes I found online.

The process is time consuming and a bit labor intensive. Instead of rolling out the dough, however, I made use of my pasta machine. Ironically, this is the first time I’ve used this machine, despite having owned it for over a year. One of the perks of making your own pelmeni is total control over the ingredients. This means, I used all pasture-raised eggs and meats for the dough and filling. I made a special trip to the Union Square Greenmarket to pick up pork from Flying Pigs Farm and beef from Bobolink Dairy & Bakehouse. Some traditionalists will say that the filling for these dumplings ought to be only ground meat and onions. I firmly believe that garlic makes everything better, and so I added it. My pelmeni, my rules! So, without further ado…

PELMENI (пельме́ни)
Makes about 100 dumplings

Ingredients
Filling:
1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef
1 large onion (6-8 oz.), finely chopped in a food processor or grated on a box grater
2 large garlic cloves, grated on a microplane grater
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Dough:
3 cups all-purpose white flour
2-3 fat pinches kosher salt
2 eggs
cold water (up to 1/2 cup)

Procedure

Start by mixing up all the filling ingredients in a large bowl.  Season the mixture generously with salt and pepper. I used a KitchenAid on low with the paddle attachment to give the filling a quick and thorough mix. You can definitely do it by hand. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge for at least an hour.

I found that mixing the dough in a food processor was the easiest way. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour and salt. Give it a quick pulse to combine. Add the eggs and pulse a few times to incorporate. Now, with the processor running, slowly stream in water until the dough just comes together. Don’t overwork the dough. Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead until smooth (about 5 minutes). Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate to let dough rest, at least one hour.

To make dough by hand: Whisk together flour and salt in a bowl, then mound the flour in the center of a large wooden cutting board. Make a well in the middle of the flour, add the eggs. Using a fork, beat together the eggs and begin to incorporate the flour starting with the inner rim of the well. Gradually add the water as you mix the dough with your hands. As you incorporate the eggs, keep pushing the flour up to retain the well shape (do not worry if it looks messy). The dough will come together in a shaggy mass when about half of the flour is incorporated.

Start kneading the dough with both hands, primarily using the palms of your hands. Add more flour, in 1/2-cup increments, if the dough is too sticky. Once the dough is a cohesive mass, remove the dough from the board and scrape up any left over dry bits. Lightly flour the board and continue kneading for 3 more minutes. The dough should be elastic and a little sticky. Continue to knead for another 3 minutes, remembering to dust your board with flour when necessary.

It’s easiest to roll out the dough in sections, so I recommend cutting the dumpling dough in four pieces. On a lightly-floured surface, roll out one section to about 1/16″ inch thickness. If you’re rolling the dough in a pasta machine, I suggest rolling it to setting 5 (second to last thinnest setting). I used a biscuit cutter (about 1 7/8″ diameter) to cut out circles in the dough. Traditionally, Russian home cooks have been known to use drinking glasses to cut out the circles.

Place one level teaspoon of filling at the center of each circle, fold the dough over to make a half-circle, and pinch the edges closed. (Your seam won’t hold if there is too much flour on the dough or if you accidentally get it wet. If the dough is floury, moisten the edges very lightly with a drop of water; if it is wet, add a tiny bit of flour.) Now bring the ends of the half-circle together until they overlap a little and pinch them closed to form a tortellini-like shape.

 

Repeat with the remaining dough and filling, placing the finished pelmeni or vareniki on a lightly floured surface and making sure they aren’t touching each other. At this point, you can either cook them or freeze them for later use.

To cook the dumplings, bring a pot of salted water to a boil, add pelmeni and stir so they don’t stick to the bottom. Technically, they are ready once they float to the surface, but I usually cook them for 2 more minutes to make sure the meat is cooked through. If you cook them too long, though, the meat can dry out and the dough fall apart.

To freeze the dumplings, place them in a single layer (not touching each other) on a metal cookie sheet and put in the freezer until the dough is frozen (at least an hour). Once the exterior of the dumplings is frozen, you can bag them without worrying about them sticking together.

As mentioned above, I serve pelmeni tossed in butter, white distilled vinegar, and cayenne. But, really, your imagination is your limitation on how to serve these deeply satisfying, perfect meat dumplings.

Note: You can use a special pelmeni mold to make things a bit faster. However, the foldover method I described above produces much prettier dumplings (dumplings, incidentally, that provide a little channel all the way around to hold onto butter, sourcream, vinegar, soup, etc.).

Roasted Cornish Hens with Garlic and Dill

Fresh dill is quite a common seasoning in Eastern European cooking. Growing up, I generally hated it, but have warmed up to its distinctively aromatic grassy flavor. As with most things edible, I find that garlic is a great compliment to this robust herb. Since dill loses some of its flavor in the cooking process, I generously garnished the bird with fresh chopped dill and barely-cooked garlic in butter.

You can certainly cook the hens whole, but I find that spatchcocking them (removing the spine and flattening them) both speeds up the cooking process and makes them a little easier to dig into.

Ingredients
1/2 cup tightly packed fresh dill sprigs, minced
8 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 Cornish Game Hens
salt and pepper, to taste

Garnish:
1/2 cup tightly packed fresh dill sprigs, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons butter
4 cloves garlic, minced

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. In a small bowl, combine dill, garlic and olive oil.
  3. To spatchcock the Cornish hen, get some strong, sharp scissors (or poultry shears) and cut down either side of the spine, take out the spine, then press down on the breast to open it out flat. Generously season all sides of each hen with salt and freshly-ground black pepper. Lay the hens out, breast side up, on a baking sheet lined with a baking rack.
  4. Smother all sides of each hen with the dill and garlic mixture. Roast until the Cornish hens are reddish-gold on top, and cooked through, about 30 to 40 minutes.
  5. To serve: Place hens on their serving dish and top with fresh chopped dill. Place butter and minced garlic in a small frying pan over medium heat. Allow butter to melt and garlic to sizzle for about a minute (garlic should not brown), and pour over the chopped dill on the hens.

Apple Crumble

I’ve been getting a lot of apples and pears in my CSA. A LOT. A friend of mine invited me over to her house to break the Yom Kippur fast, so I decided to bring an Apple Crumble Pie. This recipe is for a very large (13 x 9 inches) tray of Apple Crumble, but I decided to divide the filling between a 9-inch (alas, store-bought) piecrust and a 10-x-7-inch baking dish.

I think that this recipe is an amalgamation of a few different apple pie and apple crisp recipes I had looked up last year. It’s really easy to play around with it and figure out your ideal combination of flavors. I, predictably, decided to sweeten the filling with sucanat, as it has become one of my favorite natural sweeteners because of its rich molasses flavor. You can, of course, substitute sugar. Our CSA bag has included a variety of apples, so I used whatever was in the bag: Cortland, Macintosh, Golden Delicious, Empire. I like the variety of flavors and textures that result from combining different varieties of apples, making each bite a bit of a surprise.

Apple Crumble or Apple Crumble Pie

Ingredients

Topping:

  • 2 ½ cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes

Filling:

  • 4 pounds mixed apples
  • 2/3 cup sucanat
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Vanilla ice cream

Procedure

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Lightly grease a 13-x-9-x-2-inch glass baking dish.

Mix oats, brown sugar, and flour in a bowl.  Add butter and rub in with fingertips until topping comes together in moist clumps. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill.)

Mix all filling ingredients in large bowl to coat apples.  Transfer to baking dish.  Sprinkle topping over.

Bake crumble until apples are tender and topping is brown and crisp, about 55 minutes.  Cool slightly.  Spoon warm crumble into bowls.  Serve with ice cream.

Note: If you’re baking this recipe in a pie or 2 smaller baking dishes, check on it after about 40 minutes. You don’t want the crumble to burn.

Ready for the oven.

CSA Quandary: Zucchini

For the past two weeks, I’ve received four pounds of zucchini in my CSA share. I like zucchini just fine, but it’s not my favorite vegetable, so (with the help of Facebook and Twitter) I crowd-sourced some ideas of what to do with my bounty. Food writer Leah Koenig linked me to her zucchini post on Saveur’s website.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake piqued my interest because of its seemingly bizarre combination of ingredients. The recipe is good — very easy to follow. I, of course, complicated matters because I was missing a few ingredients and had no interest in schlepping out to the grocery store at 9pm. The missing ingredients: corn oil, one of the two eggs, and buttermilk.

The substitutions:

  • Corn Oil: The only cooking fats in my house last night were virgin coconut oil (I didn’t want to make the cake coco-nutty), butter, ghee, and duck fat. (This is why I need to go grocery shopping sooner rather than later.) I decided to go with melted butter. If I hadn’t just finished all my olive oil, I would have used that as a replacement.
  • One Egg: Having gone to a culinary school with a heavily vegan curriculum, I learned that flax seeds can act as egg replacers in baked goods. 1 egg = 1 tablespoon finely ground flax seeds + 3 tablespoons water
  • Buttermilk: I happened to have whole milk on hand. Generally, 1 cup buttermilk = 7.5 ounces milk + 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar or lemon juice.
The results were good, although I think I overcooked the cake slightly. I’m still figuring out the calibration of my oven. I also omitted powdered sugar because my sweet tooth simply isn’t that strong. Here is the recipe as I have prepared it.
Chocolate Zucchini Bread (tweaked)
Serves 8
Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon flax seeds, finely ground
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
  • 3 1/2 ounces whole milk
  • 2 medium zucchini, trimmed and grated on large holes of box grater
  • 9 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup confectioners sugar
Procedure
  1. Make Egg Replacer: stir together ground flax seeds and water. Set aside.
  2. Make Buttermilk Substitute: stir together vinegar and whole milk. Set aside.
  3. Working in batches, put a small mound of zucchini in center of large square of double-layer cheesecloth. Gather corners together and squeeze out as much water as possible. Transfer zucchini to a bowl and set aside.
  4. Preheat oven to 325º. Butter a deep 9″ cake pan with 1 tablespoon of the butter. Sift flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together into a mixing bowl and set aside. Beat together remaining 8 tablespoons of butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy, 3-4 minutes.
  5. Add melted butter, beating well. Beat in egg, then egg replacer. Add vanilla, reduce speed to low, and beat in flour mixture and buttermilk substitute in 3 alternate batches. Stir in reserved zucchini.
  6. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to let cool. Invert onto a plate and dust with sugar.

Not the prettiest presentation, but it sure is tasty!

Rhubarb-Vanilla Jam, Take 2

In my last post, I had mentioned that I might make this Rhubarb-Vanilla Jam recipe from Food 52. I’ve decided to make my own variation on it. I didn’t read the editor’s note to the original recipe until the jam was already cooking — if I had, I probably would have halved the total amount of sugar in the recipe. The resulting jam is definitely sweet, but also complex and delicious. I decided to use half organic cane sugar, and half sucanat. I’ve mentioned sucanat before, and I really do love the deep molasses flavor it imparts — a perfect complement to rhubarb’s bright tartness. For the most effective use of vanilla beans, check out Shuna Lydon’s blog post about vanilla.

Rhubarb-Vanilla Jam with Sucanat

Yields approximately 1 pint

Ingredients

  • 1 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1 cup organic sucanat
  • 2 vanilla beans
  • 18 ounces rhubarb, chopped into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup water
  • pinch kosher salt

Procedure

  1. Whisk together the cane sugar and sucanat. Split the vanilla beans into two halves. Lay each bean on a flat surface and scrape the interior out with a small sharp knife. Knock the oily interior into the sugar mixture and smush the seeds into it with your thumb, forefinger and middle finger to distribute evenly throughout.
  2. Place the rhubarb, vanilla-sugar mixture and water in a heavy saucepan with a generous pinch of kosher salt.
  3. Stir the mixture over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, stirring to scrape the bottom. Continue cooking over medium heat, stirring and breaking up the fruit with the back of the spoon. Cook for about 25-30 minutes until the jam is thick, just shy of spreadable, as it will thicken when it cools.
  4. Remove the vanilla beans and reserve them for later use. Carefully spoon the hot jam into jars and leave unsealed to cool. When cool, screw on the lid and refrigerate.

Rhubarb: not just for dessert anymore!

A quick note about rhubarb. This week, our CSA fruit share included about 3 pounds of rhubarb from Briermere Farms, and I’ve been contemplating what to do with it. I’ll most likely make a few pints of this delicious Rhubarb-Vanilla Jam from Food 52 that I made last year, but I’m also thinking about savory uses for rhubarb. Rhubarb, in and of itself, isn’t sweet, but it’s most often paired with strawberries in jams, compotes and pies. I found this savory, Indian-inspired recipe for a Rhubarb Lentil Stew last year, and I thought it was brilliant. Usually, I’ll add lemon juice to lentil-based soups and stews to add that bright burst of tartness that balances out the earthy flavor of the legumes. In Mark Bittman’s recipe, the rhubarb provides not only the necessary acidity, but also complex flavor and texture to an already flavorful dish. As with so many of Mark Bittman’s recipes, this one is minimal effort for maximum pleasure. Enjoy!

Lentil and Rhubarb Stew with Indian Spices by Mark Bittman

Ingredients
  • 3 or 4 stalks rhubarb, strings removed, chopped
  • 1 cup orange lentils, well washed
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 dried ancho or other mild chili, optional
  • Salt
  • Chopped cilantro leaves for garnish
Method
  • Combine all ingredients except salt and cilantro in a saucepan and add water to cover by about 1 inch. Cook at a steady simmer until lentils and rhubarb are quite soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove cloves and, if you like, cardamom pods. Add salt, then taste and adjust seasoning. Garnish with cilantro and serve.

Comfort Food II: Banana Pudding

And now, the second installment of the Comfort Food series.

Generally, my desire for salt outweighs my sweet tooth, so my comfort foods tend to be savory. Pudding is a major exception: I just love the texture and sweetness of pudding. Especially vanilla pudding. Growing up, my experience with pudding was mainly the Jell-O ® pudding cups. Most of what we ate as kids was prepared from scratch by my mom, but she didn’t really do desserts (she still doesn’t). So, occasionally, she would let me have Jell-O ® pudding cups in my school lunch. I had never even heard of banana pudding until much later in life — college? later than that? — because, as I’ve mentioned before, I was raised by foreigners. But, I’m so happy that I did eventually discover banana pudding! I happen to love Nabisco ® Nilla Wafers. There’s something very comforting about how simple they are. And, generally, my dessert tastes tend toward the very plain (sponge cakes with chocolate frosting, angel food, custards, etc.).

After deciding to focus on comfort food for this blog, I decided that I must make my own banana pudding. But, of course, I couldn’t go the packaged/instant route. I had to make it from scratch. ALL of it. Luckily, Alton Brown did an entire Good Eats episode on banana pudding, including making vanilla wafers from scratch. Hallelujah!

So, first, I made the wafers following Alton’s recipe almost exactly. The only deviation in ingredients was that my vanilla sugar has specks of vanilla bean in it (which makes for a lovely looking cookie, picture below). Also, I don’t own a stand mixer, so I used a handheld electric mixer. The cookies turn out more buttery and more complex than their Nabisco ® brethren. Definitely an improvement on the original.

Vanilla Wafers

Alton Brown, Yes We Have No Banana Pudding

Ingredients:

  • 7 ounces all-purpose flour*
  • ¾ teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 ½ ounces vanilla sugar*
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon whole milk

*Yes, this is measured by weight. Please do yourself a favor and buy a kitchen scale. I have a digital one, but an analog scale is just fine, too. Just do it.

Procedure:

Position 1 oven rack in the top third of the oven and another in the bottom third. Heat the oven to 350ºF.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside. Cream the butter and vanilla sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl after 1 minute. Add the egg and incorporate on medium speed for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl. Add the vanilla extract and milk and blend on low speed for 15 seconds. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed just to incorporate. Chill the batter in the refrigerator for at least 10 minutes before scooping.

Scoop the batter in teaspoon-sized balls and arrange them on 2 parchment paper-lined half sheet pans, approximately 35 cookies per pan. Use the heel of your hand to slightly flatten each ball. Bake, 2 pans at a time, rotating the pans halfway through the baking, until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the pans to a cooling rack to cool completely before removing the cookies from the pan.

Now, for the pudding part of the banana pudding. Hmmm… I don’t know whether it was me or the recipe (probably a combination of the two), but I wasn’t thrilled with how this pudding turned out. The vanilla pudding was too sweet, for one (and I didn’t even add any banana liqueur, nor did I sweeten the whipped cream). I don’t think Alton calibrated the pudding recipe to account for the ripeness of my bananas. Also, the texture was off, a little grainy — but I’m pretty sure that’s because I didn’t stir the pudding the whole time it was cooking. Remember, kids — CONSTANTLY STIR YOUR PUDDING!

Alton Brown’s Refrigerated Banana Pudding

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces and chilled
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 45 vanilla wafers
  • 4 ounces banana liqueur
  • 3 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream, very cold

Procedure:

Combine ¾ cup of the sugar, the cornstarch and salt in a 3-quart saucier. Add the eggs and egg yolk and whisk to combine. Add the milk and whisk until well combined, about 30 seconds. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture reaches 172º to 180ºF, approximately 5 to 10 minutes. The mixture will begin to

thicken and bubble around the edges. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, 1 piece at a time, being sure each piece is fully incorporated before adding the next. Whisk in the vanilla extract. Cover the surface of the pudding with a round piece of parchment and refrigerate until the pudding reaches 45ºF, approximately 2 hours.

Lay the vanilla wafers on a half sheet pan. Slowly and evenly pour the banana liqueur over the cookies. Set aside for 10 minutes.

Toss the banana slices with the lemon juice in a small bowl and set aside.

Spread a small amount of pudding in the bottom of a 1 ½-quart glass mixing bowl. Cover with a layer of vanilla wafers, followed by a layer of banana slices. Spoon 1/3 of the remaining pudding on top of the bananas and repeat, ending with a layer of pudding.

Put the whipping cream in the bowl of a stand mixer, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and whisk just until stiff peaks form. Spoon the whipped cream over the cooled pudding and spread to cover completely. Top with any remaining soaked cookies. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

For more on banana pudding, check out A Sweet Spoonful, and an alternative sugar cookie recipe from My Life Runs on Food.